DETROIT – In a discreet move Saturday, General Motors quietly lowered its new 2019 red Chevrolet Blazer SUV down from its perch above centerfield at Comerica Park and replaced it with an American-made Chevrolet Traverse SUV in white.
Some UAW workers had considered the Blazer an affront to them given that GM builds the SUV in Mexico. The Traverse is built in GM's Lansing Delta Township plant in Lansing.
"It’s very distasteful for people," said a UAW worker at a Detroit-area GM plant. He asked to not use his name because he is not authorized to speak for the UAW. "We’ve done outings to Tigers games. I don’t know if that’ll change or not based on the product sitting on the marque. We have a lot of pride."
GM has put its cars atop the Chevrolet Fountain for 10 years running. But choosing one built abroad was unsettling to union members, they said, as the union bargains for a new contract and fights to keep GM from closing four U.S. factories.
On March 26, GM hoisted a red 2019 Chevy Blazer SUV and a silver 2019 Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup atop the Chevrolet Fountain, replacing last year's Colorado ZR2 and Traverse SUV.
The Silverado is as American as apple pie, built in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Saturday, GM swapped out the silver pickup for a red one, said GM Spokesman Jim Cain, to complement the Traverse, which is white.
GM assembles the new Blazer at its plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico – a sore spot for the UAW, which had pushed to get the vehicle into a U.S. plant.
"It’s an interesting choice," said labor expert Kristin Dziczek, of GM's decision to mount the Blazer at Comerica. "It is a new vehicle and GM is trying to get a lot of exposure for it."
GM defended its move last week saying, “American workers contribute more to the Chevy Blazer than anyone else," said Cain at the time. "It pumps more than $500 billion into the U.S. manufacturing economy and support thousands of U.S. jobs.”
And Comerica offers Chevrolet a lot of exposure, said Dziczek, vice president of Industry, Labor & Economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.
"Comerica means the Blazer will be on television every time the Tigers are on television," said Dziczek. "But it is a very polarizing vehicle with the UAW and Canadian autoworkers. It’s just marketing, labor relations and strategy not really mixing – all happening at a very interesting time."
As it happens, baseball season this year overlaps with the bargaining talks between the Detroit 3 carmakers and the UAW. The current four-year union contract expires at midnight Sept. 13, 2019.
With the Blazer looming over the Comerica crowd, which often includes UAW workers, it would have been a reminder of Mexican production and U.S. plant closures on display, some say. That's partly why GM opted to change it out.
In November 2018, GM said it will idle five plants in North America this year and early next year, affecting about 6,200 jobs. GM has said the cuts are part of its restructuring – which also included cutting 8,000 white-collar jobs – and will save it $2.5 billion this year. The plants that were idled mostly build sedans, which have seen sales decline as consumers shift to buying SUVs and pickups.
The official position by the unions about the Blazer's presence at Comerica Park is murky, and complicated.
A spokesperson for Canada's union, Unifor, declined to comment on the Comerica Park display saying Unifor is not issuing any public comments on GM while in talks about the future of the Oshawa facility.
The UAW did not have a prepared comment about GM's display when asked about it last week. A request Saturday seeking comment was not answered by press time.
Follow Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter: @jlareauan
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: GM removes made-in-Mexico Chevy Blazer from Comerica Park display after controversy